BANGALORE — If eyes roll when talk turns to India’s promise as a high-tech innovation hub, it’s understandable; certainly, that promise remains unrealized. Still, there are signs everywhere of an emerging entrepreneurial class, and potentially game-changing ideas are being hatched not only among the country’s IT establishment, but also in the humblest corners of a land where 70 percent of the population of 1.2 billion still scrapes by on half a dollar a day.
“We get literally 30 to 40 ideas from entrepreneurs every week. Not all are great, but there is a lot of confidence and enthusiasm,” said N.R. Narayana Murthy, chief mentor and co-founder of Infosys Technologies and the founder of $129 million venture capital firm Catamaran, symbolically named for the light, nimble craft used by local fishermen. India’s 8.5 percent GDP growth has engendered “tremendous confidence in the country among the younger generation,” Murthy said. “A lot of them are willing to take risk; they have understood the power of entrepreneurship and wealth creation.”
If you’re wondering how India might go about reinventing itself as a country known for its inventions, cast a glance at some of its prosperous Asian neighbors. “India has to move away from the me-too mindset. If a product or service comes out of the U.S. or elsewhere, there is a tendency to think that it should be copied here, probably tweaked a bit to fit into the Indian environment,” said Bob Kondamoori, managing director of venture capitalist firm Sandalwood Partners. But Japan, too, “was into the copy act” before its engineers and entrepreneurs became innovators, Kondamoori noted. “Then came China. [Now] you see a tremendous amount of innovation coming from these two countries, as well as from Taiwan.
“It’s just a matter of time before India emerges from its cocoon.”
India watchers note that world-changing innovations like the transistor, the PC, the cell phone and the Internet didn’t spring from arid soil but were nurtured in rich R&D environments where the supporting ecosystem was already well established. In contrast, India’s infrastructure buildout began in earnest only three decades ago.